Shia fighters from Hezbollah will keep fighting in Syria’s conflict alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as long as necessary, the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah says.
Hezbollah has helped turn the tide in Assad’s favour this year, leading the recapture of the town of Qusair and fighting alongside government forces south of Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo.
“As long as the reasons [to fight in Syria] remain, our presence there will remain,” Nasrallah said on Thursday in a speech in front of tens of thousands of Lebanese Shia marking the religious ceremony of Ashoura in southern Beirut.
“Our fighters are present on Syrian soil… to confront all the dangers it faces from the international, regional and takfiri attack on this country and region,” Nasrallah said, referring to the self-declared jihadist rebels fighting in Syria.
Takfiri is a term for a hardline Sunni Muslim who sees other Muslims as infidels, often as a justification for killing them.
The 32-month-old conflict has polarised the Middle East between Sunni Muslim powers such as Turkey and the Gulf Arab states, who support the Sunni rebels, and Shia Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, who back Assad.
The president belongs to the Alawite faith, an offshoot of the Shia sect.
As well as drawing Shia and Sunni fighters into Syria from Lebanon, the conflict has raised sectarian tensions within the small Mediterranean state, as violence has spilled over the border and brought the country to political deadlock.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March but his designated successor has failed to reach consensus on forming a new government.
Nasrallah said any attempt by Hezbollah’s Sunni-led political opponents to link a deal for a new cabinet with demands for its withdrawal from Syria would be futile.
Hezbollah, a political movement as well as an armed group, had two ministers in Mikati’s government.
“Anyone who speaks of Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria as a condition to form a new government…is imposing a crippling condition,” he said, and the organisation would not bargain the region’s future “for a few useless cabinet portfolios”.
Nasrallah, whose fighters battled Israel during a 34-day war in 2006 and whose predecessor and top security official were both assassinated, has often delivered speeches via video link from secure and undisclosed locations.
But his comments on Thursday marked his second public appearance in 24 hours, after a speech on Wednesday evening when he accused some Arab countries of standing alongside Israel in opposing attempts to reach an international agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme.